It was an announcement that shook the Roman Catholic Church to its ancient foundations. The Pope has said he is giving up his role as leader of its one billion followers.
He even surprised a gathering of Cardinals in the Vatican - who were there for a different occasion.
Not for six centuries, has a Pope stepped down. Pope Benedict said illness and old age meant he could no longer fulfil his ministry.
ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports from the Vatican:
So, we're all shocked at the resignation of the Pope, but what happens next?
Pope Benedict XVI has made the announcement that he will resign as the head of the Roman Catholic Church due to his "advanced age."
Who will follow in Pope Benedict's footsteps? Is it time for an African pope?